How does marxist critism apply to Mrs. Dalloway?

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iandavidclark3 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Specifically, I think you could approach a Marxist reading of Mrs. Dalloway by analyzing Clarissa Dalloway's relationship to Miss Kilman. A working single woman who scrapes by financially through tutoring and emotionally through religious fanaticism, Miss Kilman is in many ways the opposite of Clarissa Dalloway. Miss Kilman was not blessed with good looks or financial fortune like Clarissa, and she understandably finds it more difficult than Clarissa to enjoy life to the fullest. The narrative often highlights Miss Kilman's ugliness and unattractiveness, with her at one point looking like "some prehistoric monster" from Clarissa's perspective (126). This insistence on Miss Kilman's impoverished ugliness contrasted with Clarissa's wealthy attractiveness should give us pause as Marxist readers. Why should the working classes be characterized in such unattractive terms, appearing more like primitive beasts than civilized human beings? Why should the narrative continuously position Clarissa Dalloway, financially secure and privileged enough to enjoy a life of leisure, as attractive and likable? A Marxist critique might see this divide as evidence of how the working classes are oppressed by the ruling bourgeois classes, how the upper classes dehumanize the lower classes while exploiting their labor. This reading is not necessarily the ultimate Marxist reading of the novel, nor is it the only way to read Clarissa Dalloway's relationship with Miss Kilman (Mrs. Dalloway always provides multiple avenues of interpretations). But this perspective should at least illustrate one way that Marxist criticism could apply to the book. 

Ashley Kannan eNotes educator| Certified Educator

It is interesting that there you are not finding much in way of Marxist criticism on Woolf's work. Perhaps, examining sites where pdf versions of papers written on the topic and then examining those footnotes might be a way to help in this.  It seems to me that there could be much Marxist criticism available in Woolf's work.  The idea that Mrs. Dalloway is preparing this party for the upper class, whose socially constructed ways of repression and denial of voice is a reflection of the protected world of wealth and privilege.  The individuals in this setting are the same who frown on mental illness concerns and deny the full expression of women's voice and those who wish to express feelings towards others that might be perceived as "socially unacceptable."  The need of having to conform to a social order predicated on wealth and privilege is the exact condition to which Woolf brings attention.  This is a Marxist criticism in so far as it reflects how material wealth and social privilege is not something that individuals control, but rather controls them.

isit | Student

Akannan is absolutely right. May I add something more, if you please? thanks: Many Marxist and Leninist works are based on the concept of Imperialism. A parallel can be easily drawn here, if you consider the period of time Mrs. Dalloway lives. After the first World War, many things changed in the commonwealth and colonies gained more power, which weakened the Empire (you might want to check the reasons of this (economic ones for instance)). Also Imperialism means the domination of one nation among others, which was the case with India, where Peter Walsh lived. While Peter is proud of the level of "civilization" UK achieved, Clarissa feels the opposite way. The Empire is also flawed in the eyes of Septimus, who fought for it during the war, but he does not know the reason why he fought. Septimus fought for his country but his country failed him.